NEW YORK: Glaring across a New York courtroom last week were Johnson & Johnson, the planet's 90th largest company, and the American Red Cross, a not-for-profit body supported by community donations and governed by volunteers.

Dividing the duo is the use of the revered Red Cross, international symbol of humanitarian causes. Specifically its licensing by the ARC to commercial partners selling retail products.

J&J claims that commercial use of the logo, which adorns some of its top-selling brands such as First Aid dressings, is exclusively its own.

ARC president Mark Everson called the company's actions "obscene" and "simply so that J&J can make more money." In a telephone interview he told The Wall Street Journal: " I'm sort of staggered that they would take this approach."

Hands aloft in pious indignation, a J&J spokesman insisted the company had no objection to ARC using the symbol on fundraising products. But in 2004 ARC began licensing its use on such third-party products as humidifiers, medical examination gloves, nail clippers, combs and toothbrushes.

Said the J&J mouthpiece: "What we're talking about here is [ARC's] deviation from a long-standing partnership and collaboration around the use of this trademark and their push to commercialize this trademark in the for-profit arena."

The Red Cross symbol was first adopted by international agreement on October 29, 1863. Twenty-three years later the three Johnson brothers produced their first product - ready-to-use surgical dressings. It is not known when J&J first adopted the Red Cross for commercial purposes.

Meantime, J&J's spokesman made great play of the fact that the company had donated over $5 million (€3.65m; £2.47m) to the ARC over the past three years. Its magnanimity equates to just 0.0014% of the company's 2007 brand value [$3.445bn as calculated by Business Week magazine].

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online. additional content by WARC staff